Race Review – Rat Race The Wall 2019

Like Race to the Stones two years ago, The Wall was one of those events I’d had my eye on for a while, but hadn’t dared to enter. As with all Rat Race events, it’s not a cheap affair. But it did look brilliant as it’s a great route, well supported and not too far from home. So after last year’s event I thought “What the hell” and nabbed one of the slightly cheaper early bird places, which was still not exactly peanuts at £175, but less than the full price of over £200. I basically had a whole year to prepare and look forward to it!

The route of The Wall runs for 69 miles from Carlisle to Newcastle; across the country, but not quite coast to coast. You can either do it all in one day or half and half over two days; I took the one day option. The event’s name gives the impression it follows the route of Hadrian’s Wall, but it only does that a little. The course is about 80% road with a few trail sections, and some of this is near to sections of the wall, but don’t come expecting to follow it completely! There is some climbing, but the elevation is only about 1,100 metres – similar to Race to the Stones or (to a Hardmoors runner) about the same as the White Horse Marathon over more than twice the distance. Because you cross the Pennines, the general trajectory is upwards during the first half and downwards during the second. I followed the same training plan as I had for Race to the Stones, basically trying to pack in as many long, hilly runs as I could in the months beforehand.

Registration takes place the day before the race, and I travelled to Carlisle by train, having booked an AirBNB in the centre of town. I got chatting to a few other runners on the journey. None of us had ever run so far before and some people were quite nervous! Sign-on at Carlisle Rugby Club was all very smooth. Our photo ID and mandatory kit were checked, and we were all given a tracker to carry. As well as being a safety feature, this is really handy for supporters, as Steve was coming to pick me up at the finish the next day. I tried to get an early night, but found it hard to sleep as I was so excited. I got up just before 5 am and had my porridge breakfast, then left at 6 am to walk to the bag drop and start at Carlisle Castle.

There are two drop bag points along the route; a small, disposable one at around 24 miles and another one at 44 miles, from where the bag is transported to the finish for you. You can also have quite a big bag sent from the start to the finish, which is really handy if you’re there alone. The weather was pretty spot-on; dry and fine but not sunny, although with a few showers forecast for around teatime. After a race briefing we set off at 7 am. The start was quite dramatic, from a square inside the castle grounds, over the drawbridge and out through a park. It was quite congested at first, but soon spread out a bit. The first ten miles is actually pretty flat, with just a couple of slight inclines, so a good warm-up.

There are two kinds of aid stations along the race route. Five of these are called Pit Stops, and are stocked with various kinds of food and drink. There are also six Checkpoints, which just have water and sweets, and where you cannot fill bottles or bladders. So you do need to make sure you top up your fluids at the Pit Stops. I was a bit concerned that two of the Pit Stops in the second half were about 18 miles apart. This might have been more of an issue had the weather been really warm, but luckily it wasn’t. I felt pretty good and at the first Pit Stop (15 miles) was pleased to see some pains au chocolat on offer! I ate one of these and took a bag of crisps for the road. I think crisps are my favourite ultra food, easy to eat and salty. I do get a bit fed up of sweet stuff after a while! The Checkpoints all had little bags of sweets such as Skittles and Haribo, which were really easy to grab and pocket. I try not to spend too much time at checkpoints, as it can add up considerably over a long race, but it’s important to refuel, and there was a good variety of food on offer at all of the Pits Stops, including a range of sandwiches. I thought it was lovely that people clapped and cheered as you entered the Pit Stop areas!

At around ten miles there was a sign saying something like ‘That was the easy bit’ and sure enough, most of the hilly stuff is in the middle section of the race. I started to flag a bit at around 20 miles and decided to have one of the gels I’d brought with me. I don’t like to take lots of gels during an ultra, as my stomach prefers real food over a long distance, but sometimes have one when I need a boost. It did make me feel a lot better, and I realised I probably should have started eating a bit sooner.

The elevation in this event wouldn’t really trouble anyone who’s used to running on hills, it’s more the length of it that’s the challenge. That and the fact that the route is mostly road, as I do think Tarmac is much harder on the legs than soft trail. In fact, I think courses that have gentle inclines rather than steep hills are harder in a way, because you’re more tempted to run them, whereas you’d walk up a steeper gradient. Anyway, there was certainly some spectacular scenery to occupy the mind en route, with photographers popping up all over the place to snap you. I got the impression going round that quite a few people had done The Wall before, some multiple times, which I guess says something about it.

The main drop bag Pit Stop is at Hexham, 44 miles in. It started to rain just before I got there; not much, but enough to make me stop and put on my cap. As I was eating at the Pit Stop (excellent sausage rolls!) whilst dressing a small blister that was forming on my left foot, the rain started to fall a bit harder. Luckily we were able to shelter inside a marquee. This had a bit of a refugee camp vibe about it, with people sitting on chairs or the grass, some sorting out their feet and trying to decide what to eat/wear, and others clearly trying to decide whether to call it a day. It was tempting to linger here a while to see if the rain stopped, but as it eased a bit I decided to put on my jacket and set off. I just find the longer you sit down the harder it is to get going again!

The rain continued to fall, but it wasn’t cold and I was really warm in my jacket, so took it off when the rain eased a bit. Runners had now become quite spread out, but the route is so well marked there was never any danger of becoming lost – and I’m quite navigationally challenged! We passed through some pretty villages, and there always seemed to be some people out to give a cheer, which was great. Things definitely became much harder as the miles went by. I managed to keep eating and drinking, which always becomes more difficult as time goes on, and my feet weren’t sore, but I felt I had a lot less energy in the last 20 miles or so. I had a bit of a walk at around 50 miles and phoned Steve to make sure the tracker was still working OK. My Garmin died shortly after this, but it didn’t really matter as I wasn’t aiming for any particular pace, I just tried to keep moving! It took a lot of mental effort to keep pushing on, but I managed to keep running (slowly) on the flat and downhill sections. Looking around I could see that many people seemed to be feeling worse than me! I passed quite a few, including two fit-looking guys at around 55 miles who had already decided they were going to run a minute/walk a minute until the finish.

The last Pit Stop was at Newburn, 62 miles in. I wasn’t expecting to see Steve until the end, but had a lovely surprise when he popped up here, which gave me a bit of a boost. I was struggling to eat by now, but managed to force down a small chicken sandwich that I really didn’t want. I had no idea what time it was, but apparently it was 9.15 and, as twilight was approaching, we were made to put on our head torches before leaving for the final stretch. This was all Tarmac, and I adopted a run/walk strategy for the last seven miles, as I was now feeling quite fatigued and my ankles were starting to ache a bit. Darkness fell as I reached the approach along the Tyne into Newcastle, but I could see the bright lights of the city ahead of me and knew the finish wasn’t far away. Running into the city along the Quayside was great. Lots of people seemed to know what was going on and cheered us on; I felt a bit like a celebrity! Another female runner passed me from behind and I tried to hang onto her as we turned left across Millennium Bridge to run to the finish on the Gateshead side of the river. I finished just before 11 pm, a total time (including pit stops) of 15:59:08. I was so glad it was under 16 hours!

 

 

Most people seem to have measured the run at 70 miles rather than 69, and I see it is billed as being 70 miles long for next year. Not sure where the extra mile came from, but 70 sounds more impressive than 69 anyway! There was hot food and showers at the end, but I really wasn’t up to eating curry or chilli at that point. I never feel like eating much until a couple of hours after a long run, so a sandwich to take away would have been good. In the end I got one from a petrol station on the way to the hotel we’d booked for the night. At first I was a bit disappointed with my time, as I’d hoped for closer to 15 hours, but when I looked at the full results I realised I’d done OK. I was 133rd overall out of 501 finishers and 21st woman out of 107, so satisfied with that. Unfortunately there were no age group results, which seems a shame, as they must be fairly easy to produce when you have everyone’s date of birth. The race medal was great, and also included a really cool key ring, which I obviously started to use the next day!

I’d really recommend The Wall, especially as a first ultra of this sort of distance. It’s not cheap, but very well organised and supported. I might not do it again, as there are so many other events to try, but am certainly glad I entered. My only gripe is regarding the t-shirt. We were given a generic Rat Race one at registration, but if you wanted an event-specific one you had to pay extra. For an event that costs this much to enter – and considering how cheap t-shirts are to produce in bulk – I think this should be included. We were also told there would be a free finishing photo, but the only photos I’ve seen are the official ones that are available to buy. But overall a great event!

People keep asking me if I’m going to go even longer now, but I’m not sure I could have carried on any further. Although maybe if it was a run on soft ground… Let’s say we’ll see! I’ve had a bit of a break over the last week or so, but training for the Hardmoors 60 in September starts next week.

UCI Road World Championships with Leeds Cares

Many years ago, before I was a runner, I used to do quite a bit of cycling and even bagged a couple of Alpine cols back in the day. I hesitate to call myself a cyclist these days, as my bike handling skills have become a little shaky (quite literally!) but I still have my road bike and cycle on holiday sometimes. Even though I’m all about running these days, and my OH is the proper cyclist in our house, we both love to watch bike racing and have been to the Tour de France many times, as well as the Giro d’Italia and a few of the Belgian spring classics.

It was amazing when the Tour de France visited Yorkshire in 2014, even though I had to work there on the day it came to York, as I was then part of the sports team at City of York Council. Following that we have the fantastic legacy of the Tour de Yorkshire each year. And now there’s the huge excitement of the UCI Road World Championships coming to Yorkshire; nine days of world class bike racing running from 21st – 29th September. As a truly global event, it’s an even bigger deal than the Tour de France!

As part of the championships there’s also a cyclo sportive on Sunday 22nd September that will give amateur riders a true taste of the race. There’s a choice of route lengths: short (72K), medium (98K) and long (145K), so it’s a challenge for cyclists of all abilities. The ballot for this is now closed, but if you fancy taking part you can still secure an entry through Leeds Cares, the official fundraising partner of the event.

Leeds Cares works in partnership with Leeds Teaching Hospitals to deliver health and wellbeing services to communities right across Yorkshire and beyond – including getting more people active and on their bikes, which is always a good thing. Local cycling champ Lizzie Deignan is one of their ambassadors. And Leeds Cares has a limited number of extra places in the sportive! If you pay a deposit of just £50 and then pledge to raise an additional £395 (£445 total) by 31st July you can still be part of the action and do good whilst having a great time. You’ll also receive an exclusive limited edition Leeds Cares branded Santini cycling jersey to wear on the day. I have some Santini bib shorts and it’s top quality kit. I’m really not worthy of them!

I’m not being paid to tell you this by the way – and I’m certainly not up to the job myself – but I have lots of cycling friends who I think might be disappointed if they miss out in the ballot. If you’re interested you can find all the details here.

You can tell these championships are a big deal because the legendary annual Yorkshire Three Peaks Cyclocross race has been moved from its traditional date of the last Sunday in September so it doesn’t clash. I once spent the whole day on my birthday supporting the OH at that event in sideways rain – but that’s another story!

Race Review – Hardmoors 50 2019 (DNF)

Last weekend I had my first ever DNF, at the Hardmoors 50. At the time I was massively annoyed with myself. I’d followed a plan, my training had gone well and I thought I was prepared. But, as it turns out, even the best of training can’t prepare you for the worst of weather, which is what did for me on the day. A few hours after I’d abandoned I found out that many others had done the same, or been timed out, so I didn’t feel so bad. So I can’t give a proper race review, but I can explain how the day panned out for me and lots of other people there!

The weather forecast looked great the week before the event, but gradually deteriorated until it became clear that race day would involve continuous heavy rain and very strong wind. Combined with the height and exposure of the North York Moors, this wasn’t a promising omen. It was possible to sign on the night before the race, so Steve and I travelled up to Guisborough on Friday evening, where I registered at the Sea Cadets hall. I was asked to show two items from my mandatory kit, then had my photo taken to be fitted with an electronic tracker.

I’d booked a bargain room for the night at the Travelodge in Middlesbrough, just a few miles away. I always sleep restlessly the night before a big race. I woke up at around 3 am and wondered if it had started raining. I looked out of the window and it was already pouring down, which it continued to do so for the rest of the night and most of the next day. When the alarm went off at 6 Steve told me I didn’t have to go, but I really didn’t want to wimp out and DNS after all the hard work I’d put into training.

The next morning it was heaving in the Sea Cadets hall as hundreds of runners and their supporters sheltered from the rain. We all just wanted to get going! After a detailed briefing we set off slightly late at 8.15 and headed up through Guisborough Woods to the Cleveland Way.

There are a couple of stiles to negotiate in the first mile or so, which involves a bit of frustrating queuing, then it’s up the dreaded Tees Link to Highcliff Nab. This was the first race where I’d used my new Leki running poles, and they proved invaluable on this steep, muddy track.

I got into a good rhythm here and, although I was walking, managed to overtake several other people who were sliding around. Although it was raining heavily, working hard kept us warm in the first few miles, as there’s a lot of climbing!

Shortly after this came the double ascent/descent of Roseberry Topping, aka the Yorkshire Matterhorn. The poles were really useful here too, not least because the wind was so strong near the summit they helped me to remain upright! We passed through the first checkpoint at Roseberry Lane. I heard my number being shouted out, but noticed later that for some reason my time for this leg wasn’t recorded on the tracker website; this means that had I managed to finish I would probably have incurred a time penalty for missing a checkpoint, which would have been really annoying. It had taken me about an hour and 45 minutes to cover the first five miles!

The course climbed up again after Roseberry, to Captain Cook’s monument. I took advantage of the slightly easier uphill gradient to have some flapjack, as I’d become aware I hadn’t eaten anything since the start with the terrain being so challenging. The course undulated a bit, but after a few more miles there was a very welcome long descent into Kildale, where the second checkpoint (at ten miles) was at the village hall. It had taken me three hours to get there, and it was nice to be inside for a few minutes, although it did make me realise how wet I’d become. I retrieved my first drop bag here, and ate a bag of Mini Cheddars while I emptied some rubbish out of my shoes. While I was doing this I realised that a couple of people were already retiring. I refilled my bottles, took a Chia Charge bar for the road and headed out again. It wasn’t easy to get going again after the warmth of the village hall. There’s a long climb on Tarmac out of Kildale, and I tried to run as much of it as possible in an attempt to warm up.

What followed turned out to be the longest/slowest ten miles of my life! After climbing out of Kildale to the top of the moors we maintained our height for several miles, on a very exposed stretch including Bloworth Crossing. There wasn’t any hard going along here, but the weather was so brutal it made everything seem massively difficult. Horizontal rain was lashing us so hard it felt like hailstones. The wind was so strong it was impossible to run on ground that would have been totally runnable on a normal day. Ankle deep streams of icy water crossed our path. I was literally soaked to the skin, and freezing cold because I couldn’t move fast enough to warm up. My waterproof mittens filled up with water(!) When I took one off to empty it I couldn’t get it back on properly. My race number, fixed on with four safety pins, blew off my leg at some point. It was impossible to get food out to eat. I did manage to keep drinking, although I didn’t much feel like it in the cold. There was absolutely no point stopping, because there was nowhere to stop! We all just had to keep plugging on until the next checkpoint at Clay Bank – 20 miles in.

At some point I during this section I decided I wanted to call it a day. I’m a pretty tough old bird and don’t consider myself a quitter, but the conditions had become horrendous. Had we just been doing a marathon I could have toughed it out; but I couldn’t bear the idea of another 33 miles of mostly walking because it wasn’t possible to run. I wasn’t equipped for walking, and was getting so cold it would probably have been a stupid idea to try and finish. I was hugely frustrated because, despite the difficulties I had been overtaking people, but it just wasn’t sustainable. I reached Clay Bank after about six hours, and told a marshal I wanted to stop. He asked me if I was sure. I was. My tracker was removed and I climbed into a marshal’s car to shelter until the checkpoint closed, when I’d be taken to the finish at Helmsley.

As I waited, quite a few other people made the same sad decision and joined me in the car. Everyone was saying they’d never experienced weather like it in a race. We were all sad, cold and wet, but trying to cheer each other up, chatting and sharing food and drink while we waited. About an hour later a lovely marshal called Drew ferried us to the finish. It was hard to pass through the entrance of Helmsley recreation ground and see the Hardmoors flags flying; I should have been running through there hours later. Inside, people were laying out the finishers’ t-shirts and medals, which I wouldn’t now pick up. I heard the first runner was due to arrive in about half an hour and marvelled at their powers of strength and resilience. We were offered hot drinks and even a shower, but I just wanted to get home. Steve came and picked me up shortly afterwards. Bedraggled and miserable, I dont think I was very good company at this point!

At home later, when I’d warmed up and eaten, I kept checking in on the race online as I sorted out my sodden kit. A lot of people either abandoned or were timed out at the 30 mile point, Osmotherley. It seemed that pretty much the only people who were able to finish were those with support crews and/or the opportunity to change their clothes. The cut off time for the end of the race was midnight (16 hours). Trying to understand the finish rate afterwards, it seems that around 500 people were on the list of entrants pre-race. Of those, there seem to be 287 finishers on the results list and (by my calculation) around 120 people who retired – so for whatever reason around 100 people didn’t actually start. I didn’t feel quite so bad once I’d got to grips with these figures. And my lovely boss made me this medal to make up for not having collected the official one!

Do I regret entering and starting the Hardmoors 50? People have been asking me that quite a bit this week. The (maybe surprising) answer is no, I don’t. Despite the atrocious conditions I turned up and had a go when others didn’t. I feel that retiring was the right decision for me (and many others) on the day, and I have nothing but respect for those who managed to finish. I learned a lot about taking on an ultra in the winter, and met some lovely people. Would I go back next year? I haven’t decided yet. I’m also entered into the Hardmoors 60 in September. If I manage to get through that I might have to come back to complete the Cleveland Way circle…

 

 

 

 

Race Review – Endurancelife Northumberland Ultra 2019

Last September I spent my birthday at the Endurancelife North York Moors Ultra. It had lots of climbing, but was a great event and we were blessed with fine weather. I enjoyed it so much I decided to enter the Endurancelife Northumberland Ultra the weekend before last. I’d been following a 20 week training plan for the Hardmoors 50, and this was the perfect distance at the perfect time to be my longest run before my taper for that.

Like all the Endurancelife runs, there are 10K, half/full marathon and ultra events all taking place on the same day with different start times. For the marathon and ultra runners sign on at Bamburgh Castle, are transported to Alnwick Castle by coach, then run back up the coast to Bamburgh. It looked like a great route on paper. People doing the ultra complete an additional loop of around eight miles to make up a distance of just over 35 miles.

I travelled up to Northumberland from York the night before the event. Accommodation in this area can be expensive, but I managed to find a really cheap Airbnb in a quiet village just a few miles from Bamburgh. Venturing into Seahouses for some carb loading chips at teatime, I noticed several Endurancelife course markers around town.

The next morning I headed out at 6.30 am to register at Bamburgh Castle by 7am. It was pretty cold at that time, but the weather forecast for the day was dry and bright. After a rather lengthy race briefing (fortunately inside a tent!) we boarded our coaches to Alnwick. The sun was rising over the sea and the whole area looked beautiful and a little mystical. I couldn’t wait to get going!

After disembarking at Alnwick Castle we set off at around 8.20 am.

The first six miles of the course were inland, mostly flat with a few undulations; a great warm-up, heading out towards the coast and the first checkpoint at Alnmouth. There are five checkpoints along the course, approximately six miles apart, where you have to dib in with your timing device.

Refreshments are available, but are somewhat limited, with just water to drink and jelly beans/custard creams to eat. I did get a bit fed up of custard creams by the end of the day! Participants are warned in the event manual that food and drink is limited, but I think for the entrance fee a couple more options could be provided.

However, that’s a minor quibble about what is otherwise a fantastic event. Once the course reached the coast, it gradually wound its way northwards, through picturesque villages such as Boulmer, Crastor and Beadnell. Quite a few miles are on sand, which I was a bit worried about as I thought it would be really hard work; but it was so firm it was actually quite nice to run on. We got our feet a bit wet in places; I’d carried a spare pair of socks in anticipation of this, but my Inov-8s dried out pretty well. The weather was perfect – cool and bright – and the scenery was amazing. We also had a tailwind for most of the day, which was brilliant.

After a while the leaders of the marathon (which had started about an hour after the ultra) started to come past us. It was amazing to see their pace! In some places the trail was quite narrow and we had to stand aside to let them by, but as I wasn’t gunning for time it was no great hardship. A little while later we started to mingle with runners in the half marathon and 10K too. I had some lovely chats with people along the way, which is always one of the best things about ultra runs. Not many people are in a hurry!

The added ‘ultra’ loop at the end of the marathon had quite a bit of road in it, but it was very quiet so not really a problem. We kind of ran in a big circle around the castle, which never seemed to get any closer until the last mile! Looking at my watch on this last section, I was determined to finish under seven hours, and just managed to squeak in at 6:59:48. I later received an email from the organisers to say I’d won my category. Sounds impressive, but there were only two FV55s in the ultra! I’m still taking it as a win though 🙂

The t-shirt and medal for this one aren’t really anything to write home about, if you’re bothered about that sort of thing. But having done two now, I can say that Endurancelife events are well organised and supported, and so well signed it’s virtually impossible to get lost. Northumberland would be a great first ultra, as there’s only 396 metres of elevation. It’s also a relatively easy way to acquire two UTMB points. My prize was a voucher for £10 off a future Endurancelife event, so I may well be back here next year!

 

Running Update and Hardmoors 50 Training

Hello! I know, it’s ages since I’ve written a blog post. Life’s been pretty hectic since Christmas: the combination of work, house renovation, college studies and ultra training have left me with very little free time. But I have still been running, so thought I’d just post a very brief update on what I’ve been up to. I’m currently training for the Hardmoors 50 in March, but have done a few hilly events along the way as I think it makes long runs a bit more fun.

Early in January I took part in my first ever cross country race, the Yorkshire Championships at Lightwater Valley. I was just there for the experience, but obviously many club runners take it very seriously, and there were some great performances from the top athletes – including Jonny Brownlee! We did five laps of an undulating course and  I loved it, even though it was really hard work and I wasn’t far off the back. Unfortunately diary clashes with other events meant I wasn’t able to do any other XC races this season, but I’d certainly like to do more next winter. I’d really recommend it to anyone. Don’t be afraid to give it a go – although you do have to be club member to enter.

The following week I ran the Temple Newsam Ten (miles, that is). I love this event, and have done it twice before. It’s great fun and good hilly training at the same time. I was amazed that I finished twelve minutes quicker than last year; then I remembered that last year I was just coming back from injury and had a cold, so that would explain it! The goody bag is always great here, with a long-sleeved top, medal, chocolate and crisps!

As I’ll be finishing the Hardmoors 50 in the dark I thought I’d better get some head torch practice in, so at the end of January I took part in my first ever dark race, the No Ego Challenge in Dalby Forest. This was a five miler on fire roads and forest trails which was quite steep and muddy in places. It poured down with rain throughout, but once I’d warmed up I didn’t really notice that and really enjoyed it. I’m back at Dalby for another dark run at the beginning of March which is part of the Dark Skies Festival.

Two weeks ago I gave myself a good beasting at the Hardmoors Saltburn Marathon. I did the half version of this last year. There’s always plenty of mud and some very steep hills! I felt absolutely done in at the end, but I’m sure it was excellent training!

Last weekend I ran the Harewood House Half – another event I really love and do each year. The course is hilly and beautiful, and the weather was great on the day, which is always a bonus! I expected to be a bit slow as my legs were still tired from Saltburn, but actually came in a bit quicker than expected, so hopefully all this hilly training is starting to pay off!

The day before Harewood I’d been to an ultra coaching day put on by Jayson and Kim Cavill, two amazing runners who are Cavill Coaching. It took place at the Yorkshire Cycle Hub, in the remote and beautiful location of Fryupdale on the North York Moors. Around 25 of us attended, and the day covered topics such as training, core/strength work and nutrition, as well as a social run round the gorgeous countryside where I got to try out some running poles. I really enjoyed it and certainly learned a few things I can put into practice, especially on the strength and conditioning front. I’m also going to get some poles. By the way, the Hub has a great café with excellent coffee and cake – I can certainly recommend it if you’re passing!

This weekend sees my longest training run before the Hardmoors 50, which is now scarily only three weeks away. I’m taking part in the Endurancelife Northumberland ultra, which is 35 miles along the gorgeous coastline from Alnwick to Bamburgh. The weather forecast looks superb for February, so I can’t wait to get up there.

And after that it’s a three week taper til the big 50. Yikes!